Portland State is seeking to hire a new lawyer in order to reduce its hefty monthly legal bill.
The university currently spends $24,000 per month for legal services from the Oregon Office of the Attorney General, amounting to an average total of $288,000 per year. Lawyers from the Department of Justice provide legal services to PSU, but the university does not have a dedicated attorney that deals solely with PSU.
The new position would be a general counsel to the university, called a special assistant attorney general, who would deal only with legal matters pertaining to the university.
The primary purpose behind the change is not financial but to get legal advice to university departments in a timely manner, according to Rod Diman, special assistant to PSU President Daniel Bernstine. Diman serves as chair of the Search Committee for General Counsel.
“It will save some costs,” Diman said. This counsel will not entirely replace or significantly change the role that the Department of Justice plays in representing Portland State.
Although the exact salary has not yet been listed for the Portland State counsel, Sandy McDermott, a member of the Search Committee and associate ombudsman for the university, said that the salary would be competitive with similar public institutions.
The position is ranked as an “assistant attorney general,” which typically pays between $4,141 and $5,044 per month.
“This is not a new development,” said Kevin Neely, executive assistant to the attorney general. “There are over 200 public institutions with general counsel through the Attorney General’s Office.”
According to Diman, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General will still represent the university in some general counseling, particularly trials and cases on appeal. The university’s general counsel will look at any legal issues that come up with the campus.
“It will be a place to go to get advice for the administration,” Diman said.
Diman referenced “The Attorney’s Role on Campus,” an article published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, as a good explanation of the way the university’s attorney would represent the institution and issues they would handle. The article lists governance issues, such as accreditation and government contracts, faculty and staff issues, such as affirmative action and grounds for termination, and student issues, such as academic honesty and discipline, as examples of the legal problems the counsel would deal with.
“The counsel will still be under the umbrella of the Department of Justice and the Oregon Attorney General,” said Chip Lazenby, an attorney in the Portland office of Bullivant Houser Bailey PC and a Search Committee member.
Currently, the Search Committee is reviewing applications they have received after posting a job opening on the university’s web site, as well as nationally in publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, a news source for colleges and universities that is printed weekly. McDermott said that they have received over 40 applications.
The Search Committee views the applications independently and then will have meetings on them, said McDermott, adding, “By the end of the month we will probably have a committee meeting.”
Lazenby, having been a general counsel for the last 15 years for large institutions, said they would choose a person who is the best match for the university and the Department of Justice.
The committee will continue to have meetings concerning applicants and will hopefully have finalists by December, Diman said. They may have possible candidates visit the university sometime in November. Students who are interested will have the opportunity to meet the candidates, Diman said.